Local woman recalls war years for her granddaughter
Editor's note: When Jeanene Peulen wrote a letter to her granddaughter upon her graduation from high school this year it became an historical document of sorts.
She recalled her own high school days as the former Jeanene Allen who graduated from Macon (Miss.) High School in 1946. Her memories include a time of sorrow and sacrifice during World War II and ultimate relief when the global conflict ended.
Jeanene now lives in Hudson with her husband of 58 years, Dick Peulen, a World War II U.S. Army veteran and native of the St. Croix River Valley.
Excerpts of Jeanene Allen Peulen's letter:
When your Granddad was a young GI from Minnesota marching into Japan with the WWII occupation troops in 1945, I was still a Mississippi high school girl, just about your age.
Four years earlier our school had gathered in the Assembly room to hear President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declare war on Japan and it was a very sobering day. We knew that our young men would be drafted into the Military Service, many of them not much older than you.
As it turned out, hundreds of men, and women too, joined without being drafted and your Granddad was one of those. There was such an overwhelming outrage over what happened with Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor while their ambassadors were in Washington pretending to negotiate peace; and at what had been happening in Europe with the occupation of Poland, France, Denmark and Norway by the German Nazi Regime. We knew that England was under heavy bombardment by the Germans. If they lost the battle, would we be next?
Everyone rose to the occasion to do anything they could to help with "the war effort." Up to that point, children were mostly seen and not heard, but now they became very visible, going door to door to collect aluminum pots and pans and rolling bed sheets into bandages.
You bought war stamps when you had an allowance. Fill a book with stamps and you had a War Bond to help the country.
Children volunteered to help neighbors with chores when their family members were away in the Service, and worked in "Victory Gardens." Beautiful lawns were plowed up and divided into squares and everyone had a square to take care of. Victory gardens were important because food was in short supply. The grocery store shelves were almost empty because food was going to feed the troops.
When the stores did get something it was necessary to have a stamp from your Ration Book. Everyone had a Book and your name was on it. One stamp got one pound of coffee or 5 lbs. of sugar or a can of peaches or whatever was available. It was the same for clothing. With a stamp you could get one pair of shoes a year. I was a "Majorette" in the High School marching band and needed boots and fortunately a relative gave me her stamp.
A stamp would get a pair of nylons. They were not really made of nylon but we didn't complain. The real nylon was going for parachutes for the soldiers, along with our hopes and prayers for their safety. The stockings we got were some kind of heavy dyed cotton, but they did have a seam up the back. Finally, we gave up on nylons and drew a line up the back of our legs with an eyebrow pencil.
High school dress for girls was pretty standard, pleated skirts and baggy sweaters and saddle shoes. But with all the activity we decided we needed something more rugged and started borrowing jeans from the closets of brothers and fathers. They looked terrible, gathered up with a belt, but soon ladies jeans came on the market.
Boys in the service were singing, "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me" and the girls at home were singing "I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places." A popular movie about the war was "Casablanca" and major movie stars like John Wayne made films showing the heroism and hardship of war.
Mothers and grandmothers, who had never worked outside the home, took jobs in defense plants making weapons and ammunition and filled vacant office jobs and discovered their talents. It was the beginning of the women's "liberation" movement.
Everyone wrote letters to the service men whether you knew them or not, and sent boxes of homemade food. The Post Office gave out instructions on how to pack food so it got there safe. Most every town had a "Sunday dinner with a service man program." A busload of service people would come in from a nearby Military Camp and every family in town would take a service man home, and those homesick soldiers loved sitting at a table and being with a family and talking about their own family.
We spent a lot of time in church, praying. Everyday a list of the dead or missing in action was posted and gold stars hung in the windows when someone lost a son or daughter. Sometimes a home would have more than one gold star.
High school dances, football games and parades were all done in the daytime. At night, we had "blackouts"; heavy curtains were pulled across the windows and doors so that if an enemy airplane should get past our protected borders and happen to pass over our town, they would not have lights for a target. We knew that was a possibility.
There was such heartbreak everywhere, in every country, on both sides. It seemed like everyone in the world lost someone, friend or family member. As all your books will tell you, war is hell, on the battle field and on the home front.
After 9/11 we saw some of the real American spirit. Multiply that many times and you'll know what it was like during WWII. And when victory came for us, we continued to help every country recover. We sent food and supplies and hope to our friends and our former enemies. That's the American way. That's why we are the greatest country that this world has ever known. And our great hope for the future is right here in you, our next generation. Keep up the good work.